Patrick Kane said he didn’t make vacation plans for the All-Star break, just in case. Smart move.
Kane was an underdog to make the team while Patrick Sharp was an odds-on favorite. Both Chicago Blackhawks got in, and there is no doubt Kane’s star power had something to do with it. If the NHL wants to showcase talent and personality, Kane has an edge over others.
After practice on Tuesday, Kane was humble about his selection. His numbers aren’t horrendous -- 33 points in 35 games -- but he knows it hasn’t been a “classic Kane” season.
“The kind of year I've had so far hasn't been the greatest start in the world, but I'm still excited and it means a lot to be elected in,” he said.
Kane and Sharp join Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith, who were voted in by the fans, as All-Stars and, as the coach of last year’s Stanley Cup champs, Joel Quenneville will direct one of the squads, joined by assistant Mike Haviland. The Blackhawks organization’s six participants for the Jan. 30 game in Raleigh, N.C. are more than any other team in the league.
The team-drafting format the NHL has chosen certainly provides for some juicy storylines, starting with who the captains will be and how the draft will go down.
Between now and next week, the league will informally poll the 42 All-Stars to determine the captains and two assistants for each side. According to league sources, it won’t be a simple straight vote. In other words, they’re not necessarily polling to add up votes in which the top two are the captains and the next four are the assistants. They’ll get a good idea who the players like for captain and then match assistants with them.
The bottom line is the league wants the event to be entertaining. One way to help ensure that is to have some personalities involved. So as much as they want the stat-leaders, they want some entertainers as well.
Coming off the success of the HBO series “24/7” that led up to the Winter Classic, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin were named the captains. That’s a rivalry the league has tried to capitalize on at every turn. The casual fan, especially after the HBO shows, would probably have more interest in that setup more than any other. But there are many other compelling storylines if the two aren’t picked.
Toews and Crosby would match the last two Cup winning captains. Nicklas Lidstrom against basically anyone would pit old-school versus new-school. The possibility of Ovechkin and Crosby playing together would be enticing as would Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin playing against each other. You would think at least one Hawk will get to play with former team favorite Dustin Byfuglien, though Kane said he enjoyed going against him earlier this year.
The league has consulted with the players every step of the way on this new All-Star format. On the Friday before the game, each captain, plus his two assistants, will conduct a draft of the remaining 36 players. The league wanted to make sure there would be no hard feelings for the last player picked. The players gave their OK.
If Toews is one captain, how early, if at all, does he pick Kane, Sharp or Keith? 1-2-3?
“If he's the captain, I'm probably the last guy he picks,” Kane joked. “I'm not really expecting that one.”
And then there is the idea of any of those players playing against their head coach.
“Actually, we’re trying to make a little side deal. If I’m on his team, he’ll double-shift me and bench some of the other guys,” Sharp quipped.
If the league wanted to create news out of their new All-Star format, they are certainly getting it. First came the fan voting, then the selection of the rest of the players, followed next week by the announcement of the captains and finally the draft.
Hopefully the game has some drama too. You couldn’t bet on it in the past, but maybe giving the players some stake in the process will bring out the competitive juices. If that happens, they may have the best All-Star game of any sport. It wouldn’t take much.